Composers Datebook®

Of Mountains and Messiaen

Olivier Messiaen (1908-1992) –Bryce Canyon and the Red-Orange Rocks, fr From the Canyons to the Stars (London Sinfonietta; Esa-Pekka Salonen, cond.) CBS/Sony 44762

Composer's Datebook - 20220805


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August 05, 2022


The gourmet composer Gioachino Rossini had a beef dish, Tournedos Rossini, named after him, and over the centuries countless towns have honored their native composers by naming streets after them – but few can top the honor bestowed on the late Olivier Messiaen by the citizens of Parowan, Utah. They named a mountain after him.

On today's date in 1978, the citizens of Parowan resolved to name a local mountain Mt. Messiaen in honor of the French composer, who had spent a month in Utah five years earlier while working on his symphonic suite titled "From the Canyons to the Stars."

Messiaen had been commissioned to write a work for the American Bicentennial in 1976. Apparently back in France he owned of a series of books titled "Wonders of the World," which included striking color pictures of the canyons of Utah, which so fired Messiaen's imagination that he made a special pilgrimage to Bryce Canyon in Utah see them with his own eyes. The result was an orchestra score titled "From the Canyons to the Stars," which includes a movement titled "Bryce Canyon and the Red-orange rocks."

"Colors are very important to me," Messiaen once said. "I have a gift – it's not my fault, it's just how I am – whenever I hear music or even if I read music, I see colors. The colors do just what the sounds do: they are always changing, but they are marvelous."

Music Played in Today's Program

Olivier Messiaen (1908-1992) –Bryce Canyon and the Red-Orange Rocks, fr From the Canyons to the Stars (London Sinfonietta; Esa-Pekka Salonen, cond.) CBS/Sony 44762

On This Day


  • 1623 - Italian opera composer Marc Antonio Cesti, in Arezzo;

  • 1694 - Italian composer and organist Leonardo Leo, in San Vito degli Schiavi(near Brindisi); He was one of the founders of the Neapolitan School of composition;

  • 1811 - French composer Ambroise Thomas, in Metz;

  • 1926 - French composer of American parentage Betsy Jolas, in Paris;


  • 1891 - English-born French composer, pianist and music publisher Charles Henry Litolff, age 73, in Bois-Colombes (near Paris);

  • 1916 - English composer George Butterworth, age 31, in France, as a British soldier during the battle of Pozières;


  • 1956 - Ned Rorem: Symphony No. 2, at La Jolla, Calif.;

  • 1972 - David Del Tredici: "Vintage Alice" for soprano and chamber ensemble (to a text by Lewis Carroll), in Saratoga, California;

  • 2000 - Richard Danielpour: Violin Concerto ("A Fool's Paradise"), at the Saratoga Center for the Performing Arts, in Saratoga, N.Y., by the Philadelphia Orchestra conducted by Charles Dutoit, with soloist Chantal Juillet;


  • 1717 - J.S. Bach appointed Kapellmeister to Prince Leopold at Coethen, but is at first prevented by his current employer, Duke Wilhelm Ernst of Weimar, from taking up the post (Bach was even imprisoned for a time by Duke Wilhelm Ernst);

  • 1978 - The citizens of Patowan, Utah, decided to name a local mountain Mr. Messiaen, in honor of the French composer, Olivier Messiaen, who spent a month in Utah in 1973 an composed a symphonic work, "Des canyons aux etoiles" (From the canyons to the stars), which glorified the natural beauty of the region.